FORT WORTH, Texas -- It's a phenomenon Kyle Busch can't understand and is well on his way to reversing.
Only five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has more wins (32-24) than Busch since 2008. With every passing season, a large contingent of Busch's competitors, media pundits and even the loud and begrudging boo-birds in the grandstands predict the 28-year-old is a sure bet to become Cup champion.
But despite piling up the trophies, Busch has never gone to Victory Lane during his seven appearances in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. In fact, for all the high hopes and lofty expectations, he has historically finished the season worse when he is contending for a title than when he misses the Chase field altogether.
His only win at a Chase race came at Phoenix in 2005, when he finished the season 20th in the championship standings.
"Last year we ran really well in the Chase and weren't a Chase car," Busch said. "That was frustrating. We knew we could do it -- we proved to ourselves we could do it and we came out here this year and were able to follow-up on last year's success.
"Barring Kansas (34th-place finish) I think we've done a really nice job and ? there wasn't a big one at Talladega that got the championship contenders, but that's where you try to make up ground when you can. We've run a lot better this year than in years past that's for certain. But apparently there's still a lot more room for improvement."
Busch has qualified for the Chase in six of the past eight years. His best championship finish is fifth in 2007 when he won one race (at Bristol Motor Speedway). The next year, he finished last in the 12-driver field despite winning eight races prior to the Chase start.
Last year, he failed to make the Chase, but his 9.0 average finish in the 10 Chase races was second only to champion Brad Keselowski.
This year, Busch has led laps in six of the seven Chase races and has five top-five finishes -- two of those runner-ups. The only race in which he didn't lead was New Hampshire, and he still finished second.
Busch enters Sunday's AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway ranked fifth in the standings, 36 points behind co-leaders Matt Kenseth and Johnson.
He finished third in this race last year and won at Texas this April. He starts the No. 18 Snickers Toyota fifth on Sunday and says the confidence in his recent showings on this 1.5-mile track keep him every bit a contender.
Although he has stubbornly and steadfastly resisted looking at the standings -- instead focusing only on winning races -- he conceded this week, "I won't lie, yeah, I peeked."
"Had a bad weekend there (Kansas) and lost a lot of points that we made back up," said Busch, who was ranked as high as second, only eight points behind Kenseth after the Chase opener in Chicago.
"It's certainly going to be a lot tougher now than what it had been and obviously we're going to have to have some luck on our side and the other guys aren't going to be able to have luck on their side. If you have bad luck with the front two then that's going to bring five guys back into it. It's going to be an even tighter race and that's what the fans want to see, probably the media wants to see and what I want to see.
"But," he added with a pause, "I bet you the front two don't (have bad luck)."
That's not to say Busch isn't pleased with the improvement his Joe Gibbs Racing team has made in Chase conditions. Having everyone step up has been the silver lining on whether he can pull off a late-season run at the big trophy or not. They are in the game with three races remaining.
"We've been fast, we've been consistent, we've done a good job," Busch said. "I screwed up big time in Kansas and we didn't quite get the car the way we needed to for Martinsville (last week) and we suffered there a little bit.
"You don't have that option here anymore in the Chase, for as much as those guys up front are running well. We've got to be on top of our game and come out here and (do) the best we can, lead all the laps and win all the races in these final three and see where the points stack up. If we do that and we still don't win it, we did our job. If we don't do that then essentially we didn't do our job."
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